Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011
By Mona Eltahawy
May 3, 2011
I could hear the cheers as I got out of the taxi, two blocks away. I could hear them from right in front of Park 51, the site of a planned Islamic community centre and mosque that met ferocious opposition last year for being too close to the "hallowed ground" of Ground Zero. It was minutes after President Obama’s announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed, and I was heeding a friend’s suggestion that we – both Muslims – take candles and stand in vigil where the World Trade Centre stood before Bin Laden’s footsoldiers took it down.
So it was a shock to find hundreds of others had turned that hallowed ground into the scene of a home crowd celebrating an away victory they hadn’t attended, the roots of which they were probably not there to experience or were too young to remember.
There was always something sickening about tourists taking pictures of themselves posing in front of that big gaping hole called Ground Zero. "Me at site of mass slaughter, NYC" as holiday photo caption is wrong in every language, surely. It didn’t take 10 minutes for the frat party atmosphere to sicken me. Olympic-style chants of "USA! USA!" I could just about take as a freshly minted American, as of Friday. But "Fuck Osama! Ole ole ole!" crushed any ambition of dignity for the thousands killed, many of whom had jumped hundreds of storeys to their deaths, their bodies shattered to pieces close to where we stood.
I wanted to stand in vigil, too, for the thousands more killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq as part of the war on terror that George Bush unleashed and Obama hasn’t done much to rein in. I wanted to stand in vigil as a Muslim who just last summer reminded Americans – insisting that Park 51 move "out of sensitivity for 9/11 victims" – that Muslims were also its victims.
Good riddance, Bin Laden. An unwelcome squatter in the house of my religion who tore down all the walls and was prepared to throw them on a fire to keep himself warm. Al-Qaida killed more Muslims than non-Muslims. Anytime it committed an atrocity anywhere, Muslims over here paid for it. My brother, a cardiologist, was among thousands of Muslims visited by the FBI in November 2001 and forced to submit to special registration fingerprinting, his photo and information for ever in homeland security’s files. Hundreds were detained. Hundreds were deported. Profiling.
Good riddance, Bin Laden. I long detested you and knew that when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid last December, he was igniting a fire that would render irrelevantBin Laden the man and his inflated self-importance. When Tunisians overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 29 days and Egyptians Hosni Mubarak in 18 days it was an appropriate rebuke to dictators and Bin Laden. What had become more mesmerising to young people in the Middle East and North Africa: change via revolutionary fervour that has blown apart stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims, or the hate-filled al-Qaida message that falsely promised change through nihilistic violence?
I wanted to have that conversation. But there was only one woman nearby holding candles. In between the dozens of requests for interviews and photos she got, I quickly told her she was the most dignified person there. She was stunned.
I moved to the US a year before 9/11. The day after the attack, a drunk tried to set the local mosque on fire. I first visited Ground Zero in July 2002 and could only cry and pray. "Good riddance, Bin Laden," I wanted to shout on Monday; but this new American instead quietly recited Al Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Qur’an, with "USA, USA USA" as my backdrop. I recited it for the innocent lives taken in NYC, Washington DC, Shanksville in Pennsylvania, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan – wherever the war on terror left its stains.
The scene at Ground Zero was like a parody of Team America, the film created by the South Park team to parody Bush’s America gone wild on nationalism. Now that we’ve parodied the parody, can the frat boys go home and can we return to the revolutions of the Middle East and north Africa that symbolically killed Bin Laden months ago?
I’m not hearing sympathy for Bin Laden from Muslims and Arabs I know. They’re relieved he’s finally gone. But they’re understandably concerned that media obsession will let him hijack these noble revolutions. One man has been killed; dozens courageously staring down despots are slaughtered every day.